Last Friday (7/25/08), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued citations proposing penalties totaling $8,777,500 against the Imperial Sugar Co. and its two affiliates alleging violations at their plants in Port Wentworth, GA and Gramercy, LA. OSHA initiated the inspections following an explosion and fire on Feb. 7, 2008, at the Port Wentworth refinery that claimed the lives of 13 employees and hospitalized 40 others. Three employees still remain hospitalized. The proposed penalties against Imperial Sugar represent the third largest fine in the history of OSHA.
OSHA’s inspections of both facilities found that there were large accumulations of combustible sugar dust in workrooms, on electrical motors, and on other equipment. The investigation also determined that officials at the company were well aware of these conditions, but they took no action reasonably directed at reducing the obvious hazards.
“I am outraged that this company would show a complete disregard for its employees’ safety by knowingly placing them in an extremely dangerous work environment,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Edwin G. Foulke Jr. He added, “What is even worse is that a month after the devastating catastrophe in Port Wentworth that claimed the lives of 13 people, this company had done little to ensure abatement of the combustible dust hazards at its other plant. If OSHA investigators had not inspected and posted an imminent danger notice regarding areas at the second plant, the same thing could have happened again.”
OSHA proposed $5,062,000 in penalties for safety violations at the Port Wentworth refinery and $3,715,500 for safety violations found at the Gramercy refinery. The citations include 108 instances of willful violations related to the combustible dust hazard, including the failure to clean up dust and not using appropriate equipment or safeguards where combustible dust is present. OSHA also has issued 10 citations for other willful violations, 100 citations for serious violations, and four citations for other than serious safety and health violations.
The company has 15 business days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. OSHA’s Savannah, GA, area office staff inspected the Port Wentworth site, while the agency’s Baton Rouge, LA, area office staff inspected the Gramercy, LA, location.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. OSHA’s role is to promote the safety and health of America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual process improvement in workplace safety and health.